Chris Becker

The Interview


Chris Becker

Chief executive officer

YMCA of Greater Waukesha County

Employees: About 1,100

Credit: Lila Aryan Photography

In fall 2014, the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County acquired three branches from the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee in its bankruptcy reorganization. Earlier this year, the nonprofit began construction on a $2.5 million expansion to its five-year-old Mukwonago facility, along with a $200,000 remodeling project at its Menomonee Falls location. In 2016, it invested nearly $2.3 million in upgrades and new equipment aimed at attracting and retaining members amid the proliferation of for-profit boutique fitness clubs.

BizTimes reporter Lauren Anderson recently spoke with Chris Becker, chief executive officer of YMCA of Greater Waukesha County, about what it’s doing to stay competitive.

How has your organization been weathering the trend of boutique fitness options popping up everywhere over the past few years?

“We’ve found ourselves needing to look at how to be competitive in the marketplace, but still not lose the values of what the YMCA really is – our mission, our commitment to community, to kids, to families. The Y has been around for well over 100 years, but what makes us relevant for young families today? We have to change with the times and adapt to those needs. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished to date and we are very quickly gaining a reputation of being a progressive Y.”

What sets the YMCA apart?

“We talk about being a full-facility YMCA. What that means is we cover the gamut for fitness activities, as well as youth and family activities. Every one of our Ys has swimming pools, gyms, fitness centers, child watch areas, multi-purpose rooms. So, with the popularity of these smaller boutique fitness centers – Cyclebar, Orangetheory, 9 Round, yoga and pilates studios – we’re changing some of our square footage to be able to offer many of those types of activities under one roof.

“This fall, each one of our five facilities will be outfitted with group cycling bikes, a state-of-the-art technology package with those bikes, and we’ll be changing our group cycling class schedules and class content to become very modern day, cutting edge.”

When you talk about the modern fitness user, are you talking about millennials?   

“First, we’ve heard from millennials that they want an ease of access, quick-in and quick-out experience. We’re hearing that they want more late evening classes and more weekend classes. I think the conventional 8-to-5 work day is long gone. So it’s maybe not as popular to offer the 6 a.m. class, the lunch hour class, the 5 p.m. class. Work habits are changing, so the Y needs to be more flexible to meet those needs.

“Personal training is still popular with maybe a hardcore enthusiast, but small group training resonates with millennials. We’re seeing four-to-one training – very small groups in an intense, competitive environment.”

Financially, how has your organization been able to keep rates relatively flat?

“That is a testament to our board of directors, our donors and our staff leadership. We went through a real challenging time in southeastern Wisconsin with the challenges from the Milwaukee Y. We had a demonstrated knowhow as to how to effectively run a full-facility family suburban Y, so we had some donors stand behind us and say, ‘We want to keep these facilities as YMCAs, but also we have the answer as to how to thrive – not just hang on, but become new, modern and relevant and connected to the communities again.’”

Have you seen a change in membership?

“Membership now is stable, with the trend of upward growth. We’re starting to gain traction with our marketing efforts, with our repositioning efforts, changes to our schedules and the reinvestment that we’re making.”

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